My story: From basement flood to CIRS diagnosis

by | Apr 18, 2016 | Personal

I will never forget the day Boulder went under water.  In fact, my friends and I now have a running joke that we are forever scarred from that day because now every time it rains, we immediately begin preparing for flood conditions and a never-ending downpour.  Never in a million years would I have guessed then that 2.5 years later, I would finally be reversing the health damage that flood caused to me personally.

In September of 2013, Boulder, CO experienced what is known as a “100-year flood”, which really just means that there is a 1% chance of that type of weather pattern to occur in a given year.  In 2013, Boulder was the 1%.  The magnitude of the devastation to our amazing town and surrounding beautiful mountains is still completely indescribable.  Homes demolished, businesses full of water, mountain mud slides leaving uprooted trees, washed away trails, roads impassible, and entire mountain towns accessible only with emergency helicopters.

Image 1

The creek turned raging river at the end of our street.

Many, many homes in the area experienced at least some sort of water damage, including mine.  I was renting a spacious, comfortable home with two friends and opted for the basement space to call my own.  It was the perfect space for me…until that wet September morning when I woke up to soggy carpet.  The sump pump had stopped working overnight and it had been POURING rain since the evening prior.  I scrambled for my roommates to come and help me get all of my belongings out of the basement, as it was obvious the water was quickly taking hold.  Within an hour, most of my stuff was safe upstairs and the water was 6 inches deep throughout the whole basement and getting higher by the minute.  The landlord said they would be over at some point, but were also dealing with many other flooded properties that day too.  I was temporarily displaced, but at least safe…or so I thought.

Got my belongings out just in time!

Got my belongings out just in time!

After the rains had ended several days later, we were able to see the actual damage that had been done to not only Boulder, but to the home.  Although the water had since receded, it ended up peaking at about 10 inches and the wet marks were still showing on the drywall, doors, closet, tub, and the carpet was obviously destroyed.  My landlords were great at doing what they could to alleviate as much of the devastation of the situation as they could, while dealing with many other homes that had been under water too.  That same week we had a renovation company in our home, fanning things out, taking away carpet and ripping up drywall.  I was lucky that we had an open room upstairs that I could make my home during the renovation, which ended up being over 6 weeks.

Here’s where the problem arises…I was completely clueless then.  I didn’t know about MOLD.

I didn’t know I should be really concerned about it.

I didn’t know that mold can grow on wet carpet, drywall, particle board in as little as 24 hours.

I didn’t know that using fans AFTER the period of time where mold could have formed is one of the worst things you can do.

I didn’t know that only replacing the part of the wall that was actually wet isn’t enough.

I didn’t know that re-using the same particle board doors with water stains still on them was a terrible idea.

I didn’t know that all of this would make me really sick.

These were all of the things that the landlord did to remedy the situation.  I do think they did as much as they thought was acceptable and safe.  I just wish I had the knowledge I do now to insist more was done to ensure a non-moldy, non-toxic environment.  Instead, I just moved back in to the basement and continued to live there for another 1.5 years.  And I felt totally fine…for awhile.  It wasn’t until a year later that the basement started making me sick.

I now know why.  I met all of the necessary requirements:

  1. I was living in a water-damaged building (it’s estimated that approximately 50% of buildings in the US are!)
  2. I have the gene that makes my body unable to produce antibodies against biotoxins.  This gene is called the HLA gene and is assessed through a blood test.  It is a great way to learn if you can get sick from mold mycotoxins, Lyme and its co-infections, and other less commonly known biotoxins.  I am susceptible to ALL of the above.  (Stay away, ticks!)
  3. I was randomly struck with ANOTHER unrelated health issue — a salmonella infection.  With my body and immune system already in overdrive trying to fight one thing, it made it the perfect storm for the toxic burden to take hold and finally wreak havoc.

But, I still had NO IDEA this was actually happening.  I just knew I didn’t feel like myself, even long after the salmonella infection was gone.  It wasn’t until a few months later when other random test results came back, that my doctor recognized some of the results as being due to potential mold exposure.  Once those words were said and I started thinking back to my flooded basement bedroom, I finally knew what had been plaguing me.  I moved out the next day.

I was hopeful that by leaving the environment and all of my furniture, I would get better.  And I did, kind of.  I definitely felt better and had a lessening of symptoms.  I thought I was on my way to feeling like myself again and that it would just take a bit of time.  But in that time, even more health issues took place.  You can read about my emergency situation here.  And that clouded everything because I was then dealt a whole new set of symptoms and healing strategies.  Any thought of mold was pushed to the back burner.

After that surgery, I felt a lot better.  I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel and truly thought that was the final straw and I could get back to my old life…again, I was very wrong.

Once the healing was over, I started getting back to normal life.  But something was still off.  I STILL wasn’t myself.  It’s a hard thing to explain because it wasn’t like I had these super obvious symptoms, and I definitely didn’t LOOK seek.  I seemed totally fine.  But, there was something keeping me from being ME.  I tried supplement after supplement, convinced it was just my adrenals and thyroid needing additional support.  Nothing helped.  I couldn’t shake these mystery symptoms.

I was (am) dealing with:

  • such incredible fatigue that I would wake up and immediately think about how I could change my schedule to get back to bed ASAP.
  • joint pain mostly in my knees, ankles, and wrists.  It was worst in the morning to the point where I had to put most of my weight on both banisters to get down the stairs.  I also had to stop doing down-dogs in yoga because it hurt me wrists too bad.
  • poor muscular energy and endurance.
  • inability to regulate my thyroid hormone with or without medication.  It would go from low to high to normal seemingly daily.
  • very low cortisol no matter what interventions I took to improve my adrenal health.
  • swollen knees.
  • significant, rapid weight gain.
  • cognitive issues such as memory loss, confusion, poor word recollection.
  • inability to keep up with group conversations.
  • depression.
  • disrupted sleep.
  • disrupted hunger signals.

I spent the next 6 months fighting every day to act like my normal self.  But it was getting harder and harder to ignore.  And harder and harder to just blame my adrenals.  Then, one day, something inside of me snapped and I realized I needed to keep digging.  I couldn’t continue feeling so bad without a more definite answer.  Something made me go back to the mold concept and explore it further.

I learned about the online VCS screening from that is an easy, inexpensive test you can do at home that has 92% accuracy.  I decided it was worth a shot to give it a whirl.  And I failed!  That’s when I knew I was on to something and had more digging to do on the subject of biotoxin illness.

From there, I made an appointment with my naturopathic doctor to do a whole host of blood tests that, according to extensive research by Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, can diagnose someone as having Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS) due to biotoxin exposure.  Those tests came back with a positive diagnosis for me…and a mixture of emotions.  I was SO happy to finally be coming up with some answers as to why I was feeling the way I was.  But, I was also very overwhelmed with what to do next.  Luckily, there is a TON of awesome information out there for people that have been diagnosed with CIRS and a very specific, and very doable protocol that just needs patience and diligence.  That I can do!

So, this is where I am at currently.  Slowly chipping away at the protocol.  But feeling very optimistic that for the first time in awhile, I can actually say this is it…and it’s actually IT!  I am currently on step 2 of the protocol. (I think there is 11 steps.)

Step 1 is to make sure you are currently living in a mold-free environment.  I performed an ERMI test from Mycometrics on my current home and it came back safe!  What a relief! And this also meant I could move on to step 2…

Step 2 is to take binders to get the toxins out of your body since those of us with the gene can’t do it on our own.  I am taking cholestyramine (CSM) which is a prescribed medication that can be used “off-label” as a powerful binder that is also safe.  Many have experienced great symptom relief from this treatment so I am hopeful and excited!

I will keep updating my website as I go through this process because — from my own research — I can see a need for real people, sharing real stories, and real results in this community of fighters.  If you would like to be updated when I continue with my story, sign up for my email newsletter to stay in touch.

I am forever grateful for this entire journey because it has defined who I am in the most positive way.

  • It has allowed me the personal, first hand experience of dealing with many of the same issues my clients are currently experiencing.  I can relate and provide both professional and personal advice to get my clients well.
  • I’ve learned the value of true friendship.  I have so many amazing friends who have shown such a tremendous amount of support, compassion, concern, love, and assistance throughout this process and some of them I’ve never even met in person!
  • I’ve learned how to have grace and leniency with my own body and mind.  Because while it seems my body is doing everything opposite of what it should be doing, I can see very clearly that it has been doing everything it can to PROTECT me and working very hard to get back to homeostasis.
  • I now know to never take any good moment for granted.  And to find the good in the bad moments too.
  • I’ve been reinforced with the fact that we need to KEEP DIGGING when something isn’t right, even when some doctors tell us we’re fine. (Oh yeah, this happened to me too.  I wasn’t fine.)

I share this information because every time I talk about it, I get more people that are realizing this could be their issue as well.  I think there are many people that are still having unexplained health issues that may be dealing with something similar and I want to pass the message on about the steps to take to find out for yourself.  I will continue to openly share my experience as it unfolds with the hope that it will shed light for someone else.  In my next post, I hope to describe in more detail how the protocol went for me and what I learned along the way.

Have you been diagnosed with CIRS?  Been exposed to mold?  Leave me a note below about your experience!  Let’s build a little community!  

If you would like help digging to find YOUR answers, I would love to help you!  Sign up for a FREE 15-minute consultation.





You May Also Like…

Mold Illness Diary – Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment

Mold Illness Diary – Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment

I've gotten far enough along in my treatment for mold illness and have learned enough in the process to start sharing my story and what I know in an effort to help others get the direction they need.  This topic needs to be acknowledged and discussed so much more than...

Why I Quit Thyroid Medication

Why I Quit Thyroid Medication

Oh man, this is going to be quite the post to write. I'm excited about it, because I think it will shine a light of hope for quite a few out there dealing with thyroid conditions that aren't getting better with prescribed medications. But, I'm also a bit weary to...


Hey there, I'm Shawn!

I’m obsessed with nitro cold brew, 90% dark chocolate, and helping coaches and practitioners build a business they love. With nothing but a passion for helping others and the desire to never have a boss again, I quit the corporate world and built my own million dollar coaching business over the past decade. Now, I help others do the same.


solopreneur personality test